WASHINGTON — Blown film extrusion equipment maker Addex Inc. had a sizable order earlier this year from one of Europe's largest film companies. The only problem was U.S. banks refused to help finance the project, so Addex only supplied one-third of the order, and an Italian manufacturer got the rest.
Addex, an equipment manufacturer in Hingham, Mass., could double its business overseas if it could get around some hurdles the U.S. financial system puts in the way of small, export-minded firms, according to President Rick von Straus. European banks provide those services routinely when their clients export, he said.
Concerns of small companies like Addex's were the focus of a Dec. 14 Senate Committee on Small Business forum in Washington on barriers for small exporters. The discussion, led by committee chairman Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., was mainly to gather information and not to write specific legislation, according to committee aides.
Lori Anderson, director of international and economic affairs for the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington, told the panel that when she surveyed plastics companies, they cited financial barriers like Addex's and generally seemed unaware of the variety of government programs available to help them.
"There are so many good programs out there, and the word is not getting out," said Anderson. Existing government programs are very bureaucratic, and not easy for small companies to use, she said.
Anderson's comments were echoed by others on the panel, which included more than 20 representatives of business and government.
Government administrators, including officials from the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Small Business Administration, said their efforts sometimes are slow, and that their small agencies are strapped.
"We are being asked to do an awful lot with very little," said William Redway, group vice president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in Washington.
Besides government hurdles, small businesses also face resistance from financial institutions.
Large banks do not want to make overseas loans to small companies, and small banks lack the expertise to evaluate foreign risk, said Gerald Smith, president of Transcon Trading Co. Inc., an Irmo, S.C. export consultant.
"With all the bank consolidating going around the country, it is going to get worse before it gets better, in my opinion," he said.
He suggested larger banks need to pool resources to create consortiums for riskier ventures, like a collection of South Carolina banks that have pooled money for economic development.
"I believe an appeal should be made to the top U.S. commercial banks," he said. "Their involvement in assisting small- to medium-size exporters using Ex-Im guarantees is of national interest."